#BeautifulStories

This week I have been humbled and encouraged by the vast number of #BeautifulStories people have shared on Twitter. These are not just stories though; rather, they are testimonies to the ways in which God has created them, and how they have flourished once they realised that.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”

St Catherine of Siena
Torii, or gates, which mark the space between this world and the sacred

As a new doctoral student, I am interested in these stories of flourishing; our love stories with God, and God’s love stories with humanity. I am really struck by the idea of torii seen in Japan, pictured above, and how these gates mark the space in a journey where one travels from this world to the sacred. The particularly iconic torii at Fushimi Inari above stretch for a few miles, repeating over and over. With each step there is a sense of coming closer to the sacred – it is a truly mesmerising experience.

It struck me that the many #BeautifulStories I have read this week are similar to these gates; each one is unique, there is no one story. Neither are they all necessarily happy: we mustn’t forget the stories which are excluded because they don’t feel very ‘beautiful’, or are too painful or costly to tell, as well as those that have been prematurely cut short. However, each individual story brings us slightly closer to understanding God.

The more we see of the great diversity of God’s creation, the better our view of the glimmer or shimmer of God’s image in and through each of us.

Uniquely made and threaded through God’s complex tapestry of life

My sadness is that these stories were shared as a response to the Church of England (CofE) Evangelical Council’s (CEEC) video, titled The Beautiful Story, and released following the launch of the CofE’s Living in Love and Faith book and resources earlier this month. The video takes viewers through a series of conversations about sexuality from an evangelical Christian standpoint. Whilst regret is expressed in relation to how evangelicals have been posited as homophobic, there remains a clear stance on sexuality, and sex, only being appropriately expressed in marriage between a woman and a man. As a side point, it also suggests that a shift away from this evangelical sexual ethic is responsible for the #MeToo movement. It is also communicated that any change to the CofE understanding of, and teachings on, marriage would lead to people within the CEEC being out of communion with the CofE.

What is deeply concerning about CEEC’s The Beautiful Story is that it expresses minds already made up. It seems to be a battle cry, or a warning, of the red line which cannot be crossed in the eyes of CEEC, regardless of where Living in Love and Faith takes us as a Church. These resources have been offered to help all of us to pray, study and learn together and play our part in discovering what God’s call is to the CofE today. It is the beginning of (yet) another opportunity to listen and to share and to seek to understand those who are different from us – yet this video undermines that spirit and process of discernment.

I was deeply moved by one account of a fellow and much valued priest who, despite being slightly weary from so much listening and so little change over the years, wanted to engage with #LLF. Equally moving was a blog post from another colleague in response to The Beautiful Story – it expresses wonderfully the challenges of growing up, and living, within the margins. I commend both pieces to you.

I too have spent much of my life on the margins. This has been most enduring through my experience of being a lesbian in the church, where the theology espoused in The Beautiful Story at times jeopardised my own love story with God and held me back from seeing myself as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 14). Secondly, I think back to living as a foreigner in Japan for four years in my twenties ; and in more recent years, spending five weeks on placement at St Alban’s Anglican-Episcopal Church in Tokyo. I learned so much from this community who were on the margins of the society they lived within because of their status as foreigners in Japan, or their Christian faith which was incongruent with the beliefs of the wider Japanese society.

Whilst being on the margins can feel painful and uncomfortable, there is huge treasure in the realisation that Jesus never fully fitted either. Jesus modelled living from the margins. Jesus, therefore, offers us much as LGBTQ+ Christians who are so often outside, looking in. Yes, it is exhausting, but Jesus, who saw the woman at the well, who healed the lepers, who gave sight to the blind, who did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, Jesus sees you and me. Jesus knows you and me. Jesus loves you and me. Jesus calls you and me to be who we were meant to be and set the world on fire – this is our beautiful story!

Endings, Beginnings, Time Between…

In the spring, after being signed off as a curate and given permission to discern where God was calling me to next, my partner and I found ourselves driving round the villages of Yardley Hastings, Denton, Castle Ashby, Whiston and Grendon. This was surprising on a number of levels, not least because I had not expected to be embarking on rural ministry within a multi-parish benefice…I’m not sure what I had expected, and I definitely should have learned, by now, to expect the unexpected!

St Andrew’s, Yardley Hastings

A few weeks later I walked around three of the villages, and I became a little more confident that this may well be where God was calling me to be.

Walking towards Castle Ashby

In order to invite others from the diocese and local area into the process, I applied for the post, and some time later was interviewed for, and offered the post of, Rector of the Benefice of Yardley Hastings. It was such an affirming experience and I was, and still am, ecstatic to be embarking on serving these communities.

St Mary the Virgin, Whiston

As we look to the future, and indeed begin to move towards it, the need to shed – or move away from – something in order to make room for the next step becomes more and more apparent. As I prepared for my last services in the Holy Spirit parish in Leicester, it felt pertinent that the leaves were beginning to fall.

Castle Hill Country Park, Leicester

Just as leaves fall gradually, so were these endings gradual. I felt the celebration with me of the many wonderful people who I have had the very great privilege of walking alongside, as well as the lament of loss. Parting is painful, even when we know it is right. I was truly humbled by the kind words of so many who have shared a part of their journeys with me.

St Andrew’s, Jarrom Street, Leicester

The pain of parting gave way to a flurry of activity related to moving house – packing and unpacking. This Sunday, after getting settled in the Benefice of Yardley Hastings, I was licensed as Rector via Zoom. In these strange times much of this discernment process has been conducted on line, and being physically present at various stages has affirmed God’s call on my life now. Clarity of God’s voice has been so important, yet I have wondered how patient life allows us to be to wait on God, to listen for God’s still small voice…? As I look to these parishes, in these strange times, I hope and pray that we can wait on God, notice where God guides us, in order that we can best be God with skin on in our small corner of the world.

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near; wait for the Lord, keep watch and pray…

Sometimes seeing through God’s lens means that we need to take time to discern where the focus needs to be…I guess it’s about being comfortable with seeing things a little out of focus, and yet still looking again to see what lies beyond the blur!

Hospitality 

#438 #hospitality today in the form of #openday. It is always a #pleasure to welcome prospective ordinands into this space that we are privileged to look after! Today I #pray for all exploring #priestlyvocations as well as those discerning next steps. May they hear God’s voice above all else. Amen. 

Ember Day

#428 For #emberday we prayed for those #preparingforordination, those in #ordainedministry and those going through the #discernmentprocess in College Group worship. We were encouraged to walk as we prayed. Looking at God’s creation for inspiration as we prayed, I found myself focused on these leaves fallen away from trees in the grounds of Cuddesdon. There is a time and #seasonforeverything – a time to study and be formed, and a time to serve. A time to discern and question, and a time to follow; a time to retreat and a time to be sent out; a time to grow and flourish, and a time to rest and refresh. May the boldness of the Spirit #transform us, may the gentleness of the Spirit #lead us, may the gifts of the Spirit #equip us to serve and worship God. Amen

Only by faith…

#378 For the past few days I’ve been having some #anxieties about a few #decisions I’m in the process of considering regarding next steps after #theologicalcollege. I wondered whether some sort of #timemachine or #telescopetothefuture might help to settle any concerns I have…I then realised that that could make it worse! I wonder if the future is something we find out about only when we’re truly ready or #equipped to handle it? Had I known this time last year all that would have occurred in the last twelve months, I fear it may have been too much to cope with in one go: the positive would have been met with #disbelief and feelings of #insufficiency; and the negative with #fear, #upset or even #desperation. A key thing which may be missing here is #faith…by faith I trust that God has it all worked out, by faith I trust that I and others are #listeningtogod and by faith I trust that God gives us all that we need, in good time, to deal with whatever comes our way. When I stop and meditate on the awesomeness of God, and on His abundant grace and mercy, I realise the last thing I need is a time machine!!

End of Office

#295 Finally the presidential staff has been passed on. I have been the President of the Common Room at college since October, and the initials on the staff are a testament of those who have gone before me. It has genuinely been a joy and a privilege, and I have loved every minute of it. Equally though, I am keen to watch others grow in a role which contributes so strongly to #formation for ministry. Today I pray for all those in positions of leadership, that they may be blessed with #wisdom and #discernment, #humility and #grace. Amen.